When it comes to getting a first page Google ranking, the average time that someone spends on your post is one of the three biggest factors. Google’s ranking algorithm keeps track of the time each searcher spends on your post before they click the back button to return to Google.
The average time on page is simply the average amount of time that visitors spend on different pages and posts of your website. You want your average time on page to be as high as possible.
One of the obvious ways to accomplish this is by writing longer blog posts. This is why the average word count of all top 10 ranked pages on Google are articles with 2000 to 3000 words. With all things equal, long articles will have a higher average time on page than short articles.
Since most of us know this already, let’s talk about all the other things that are usually unequal.
When you look at your average blog post, there are only about 2% of visitors that stay on the post for more than two minutes. The vast majority of new visitors will back out of a blog post within the first 5 to 20 seconds.
This is not because these bloggers are bad writers. It’s due to the fact that their post is not formatted to pull readers into their posts.
After studying over 40 million page views and testing every possible variation, I was able to identify ten formatting hacks that consistently increase the average time on page of blog posts.
#1 Limit Your Paragraphs to Seven Sentences or Less
If you put too many sentences in a paragraph, then new visitors will get psychologically overwhelmed when they see your post. A huge block of text with over seven sentences is just too much information for the average web visitor to consume. A twenty sentence explanation of a concept broken down into three smaller paragraphs will get read up to 8 times more often than the single twenty sentence paragraph.
Variation of paragraph length will also stimulate readers to continue reading through your post. I consistently break up my paragraphs into different sizes.
Every once in awhile, I even place single sentence paragraphs to add white space and to help the reader gain momentum.
#2 Always Use Black Text on a White Background
When you look at all books that have been written in the history of the world, then you will see a consistent trend. Over 99% of them use black text on a white background. The reason behind this is that it is the perfect contrast for reading text. Too often, amateur bloggers will want to be creative by using crazy background and text colors.
If you need to be creative, then please use your creativity on your logo and footer. Keep the post area simple… white background with black text.
#3 Keep Your Column Width Between 700 and 800 Pixels Wide
I just talked about how a reader can get overwhelmed with too much text in one paragraph block. The same thing applies to the width. You always want to help the reader gain momentum throughout the post. This happens with every time that they scroll down to read more of your content. On a desktop, any width greater than 800 pixels is going to hinder this process.
I personally prefer using a 700 pixel wide column for my posts. This is going to allow between eighty to ninety characters on each line.
There was a detailed study by Smashing Magazine, which looked into typographic designs patterns of websites and blogs. The study found that the majority of websites have between seventy-five and ninety characters per line.
#4 Your Font Size Needs to Between 14 and 18 Points
Only a mere six years ago the average font size across websites and blogs was only 12 to 14 points. Going back to the same Smashing Magazine study that I mentioned earlier, they identified that we have experienced a significant shift towards larger fonts throughout the body copy of websites. The new normal is 16 points, which is now the most popular font size. The next two most used font sizes are 14 points and 18 points. So the shift is continuing to go upward.
The bigger your font is, the easier it is to read. The majority of your readers are not going to be eighteen years old with perfect 20/20 vision. You want to make sure your articles can be easily read by people of all ages.
In addition, the larger font sizes will continue to add reader momentum. I think at some point in all of our lives we have opened a book that used a small font. In college, I was forced to read a few of these books. It felt like an eternity before I could get to the point of being able to finally turn a page. The bigger fonts help your readers to scroll down and turn the internet page.
#5 Set Your Font Typeface to Georgia or Arial
It has been proven across several studies that Georgia and Arial are the easiest typefaces to read. They also translate very well across all devices and browsers. When you look at the most popular typefaces across all websites, Georgia and Arial are number one and number two. Helvetica is a distant third.
Many of the amateur bloggers that experiment with crazy colors will also play around with obscure fonts. I get hundreds of emails every week asking me to take a look at their blog and point them in the right direction. At least 10% of these blogs are using wild fonts that I have a hard time reading. Remember, keep the creativity off of the blog post area.
#6 Make Sure Your Line Height is Set to 150%
You do not want the lines of your text to be all smashed together. By using the proper line height, you will be able to create the perfect amount of white space between each line of text. One of the goals of typographic design is to stimulate horizontal motion when reading, and a 150% line height encourages great horizontal motion.
In addition, the larger your line height is, the easier it will be for your readers to recognize letter shapes.
#7 Try and Use List Posts as Often as Possible
Everyone loves to click on list posts. The reason behind this is because a list post is extremely easy to scan. Most people searching for an answer on Google want to get to the nuts and bolts in article as quickly as possible. The list post does this by listing out each of the key points in bold or in a larger header.
Because of this, blog posts using the list post format have the highest average time on post of any blog post type.
Google searchers prefer to click on titles that begin with a number due to the fact that 95% of numbered titles are using the list post format. A Conductor study that was discussed on MOZ revealed that the numbered titles are clicked on more than any type of headline, and it was not even close. They were clicked on 75% more than the headline type that came in second place.
#8 Always Use Headers to Organize the Content in Your Post
One of the reasons why the list post has such a high average time on page is because it is naturally designed to sort the content. Each item on the list is usually turned into a header that is followed by a paragraph or two of content.
Whether you have a list post or a how to post, it is important to break up the content into consumable sections. Each section needs to have a header that is designed to make the reader dive deeper into the post.
We all know how important the title of your post is. Your post will never get read if your title is weak. Try and incorporate the same tactics that you use for creating titles with your headers.
Up to 60% of people that arrive at your blog posts will scan through the headers before reading. Some will be testing the waters, and others will be searching for a specific answer. A great blog post that implements headers correctly will make it easy for their readers to quickly find what they are looking for.
#9 Use Bold Bullets to Break Down Key Points
This is one of the easiest formatting techniques that most bloggers forget to use in their posts. While you do not want to use them all the time, bullets work great when you have a concept that has several key points to explain. Instead of writing a five sentence paragraph that covers three points, go ahead and break them out with bullets. It changes the visual pace of your post and stimulates the horizontal motion of the reader.
#10 Use Plenty of Visuals Strategically Placed Throughout Your Posts
Nothing will make someone hit the back button faster than coming to a blog post that does not have any visuals. Just a few strategically placed images can dramatically impact the average time on page of a blog post.
On top of that, adding visuals to a blog post has been proven to increase social shares. A study by BuzzSumo showed that a blog post with only one image had 120% more social shares than a post with no images.
Now imagine if your posts has three images of key stats, two great YouTube videos, and ends with a spectacular infographic. That is a recipe that will lead to readers to devour your content and then share it with every single person in their social network.